Saying sorry

Dear Hannah,

The original Christians were huge fans of penance.  This meant, in effect, that if you did something wrong and you were sorry you had to prove it.  But saying sorry wasn't enough, for obvious reasons, so they added works to it.  Fixing things you broke and such -- which worked well until somebody realized paying hurt too.  So you'd give alms to the person you hurt, or something like that, until somebody realized that sins were against God, at which point they said you could just give money to the church. 

This was a revelation of great convenience. The Crusades and St. Peters' needed funding.  Some genius realized guilting was more lucrative than tithing.  So the Church re-branded these works of penance "indulgences," and people's sins became the church's gain.  The worse things got spiritually, the better they got financially.

The rich of course caught on, and what we found was that by the 16th century you could walk right into a brothel in Rome, do the nasty with some disease-ridden hooker, find your local penance dealer, and pay a specific sum to clear your soul -- like buying a shirt, or a burger.  $3.99 for the gift of absolution.  It was said that for the right price you could clear yourself of murder; and this little progression, one logical step at a time, from proving you were sorry to paying to punch your sister, led to the ruin of the whole church in general.  Martin Luther made a pilgrimage to Rome and saw indulgences being sold to scoundrels.  He then realized there was zero actual repentance from anybody and lit Christendom on fire.  This is the beginning of the modern world.  The realization that sins couldn't be paid for in cash**.  They say Christ bled for all our sins, but I'm pretty sure we did for this one.

The old Catholics, despite all this, were sensible in one way, and it was that they paid for the things they did do, but (so far as I'm aware) they rarely paid for things they didn't.  You could pay for raping a chicken but not for not feeding the orphans.  Too much trouble once you go down that road**.  Once you pay for one you realize you forgot another -- and orphans turn into widows, which turn into the handicapped, which turn into the homeless, which turn into people who are just downright poor, cold, hungry, and down on their luck: in short, the majority.  You open the door to one and you open the door to all; and beyond this there were the little unChristian things -- like not holding the door for a lady, or not saying thank you for a favor, or neglecting to use your turn signal.  An avalanche of could've-beens that seem like nothing at first, but when added up ruin everything.

What the Catholics knew was that pockets have limits.  If they took it too far people would see through the whole gig.  For this reason I bet my money there was no indulgence for love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  It was too much to ask for and far worse to pay for; and so the Catholics, running a serious business, decided to stay in business.  The Goose that laid the golden egg was kept alive, at least until Martin Luther ruined it with The Gospel.  Now we get forgiven for free, and we cherish the love of Christ, in turn, by buying tickets to God's Not Dead 2 and handing paychecks to Joel Osteen.

I'm not a fan of indulgences, but when I consider the things secular Americans do now, the crusades we have every year, for things like mandatory six-month pregnancy leave, or free needles and nurses for junkies, or open borders, or free college for morons, or new houses for pandhandlers, or sex-changes for inmates, it almost makes me miss them.  At least with the old indulgences every time you paid you felt like you got something out of it.  Also there was an end in sight.  You were paying for what you did do, not for what you didn't.  But we quiet our conscience today by handing our white-savior do-gooding over, permanently and without satisfaction, to an unfeeling bureaucracy; and then, while drowning in the cost of yesterday's crusades, we move on infinitely to the next ones.  The future is a burden.  I predict tax increases and far less acts of actual charity.   

Your father,

*Real penance is one of my favorite things in the world.  I've never once in my life thought less of anyone for apologizing.  So what if you were wrong?  You're right now, and you were big enough to admit it.  When someone apologizes to me I love them more, and when I apologize to others I love myself more too.  Therefore for us narcissists it's sweeter to give than to receive.  But my advice, as always, is to never privately apologize to anyone too stupid to forgive you. 

**Christ mentions that of all the things anybody could do wrong, one stands out above the rest as unforgivable.  You can shoot your mama but you can't "sin against the Holy Spirit."  Christians, despite being filled with the Holy Spirit, have never been able to say what this means -- so there are theories.  Is it denying Christ?  Peter did this, and now he runs Heaven.  Is it killing Christians because they're Christians?  Paul did this, and now through his epistles he runs earth.  Some people have theorized it's the 1-John-mentioned sin unto death.  But this could be any sin that God sees, has quite enough of, and strikes you dead on the spot for -- a la Ananias and Sapphira.  The truth is nobody has an idea what sinning against the Spirit means, which leads a lot of Christians, or at least the fifth of them who read the Bible, to sit up late at night wondering if they're saved.  Not very nice of Christ, but maybe this is a brilliant way to keep them guessing.  We're never so careless as when we think we can't lose something.

**Kurt Vonnegut once noted that the Ten Commandments were put in front of our public buildings instead of the Beatitudes.  I believe this is because Christians are smart enough to know that in regards to civilization, the Sermon on the Mount is downright dangerous.

More dangerous, perhaps, than the Satanic monuments which we've permitted to be erected around the country.  The Satanists have been putting these statues up not because they really need to, but because they know it drives the Christians nuts.  But would it drive them more nuts than seeing turn the other cheek in front of a county courthouse?  Or forgive others their tresspasses in front of a jail?  Or insomuch as you have done to the least of these in front of the treasury?  Or go the extra mile in front of the IRS?  Mr. Vonnegut, an atheist I remind you, said these words were the most beautiful words ever uttered on morality.  I disagree, but we have yet to ask the Christians why they don't believe the same thing alongside him.

I believe that in life, timing is nearly everything, and that may be the Christians' best argument against putting them on courthouses. But was there ever really a time for them?  Has any Christian ever really, seriously, truly preached them to his own daughter?  If he did I'd consider him a villain.  The only time they apply is when she's got a chance to stand up for herself.

Like these essays?  Don't trust Zuckerberg?  Email me at and start your subscription today.